February 5, 2016 Edition

                                                                February 5, 2016 Edition

The coalition of Idaho Charter school Families participated in Capitol day at the legislature—in a big way! The Coalition hosted two education modules on Idaho history!! We also practiced the 2016 flash mob dance!!

Our motto was “I trust parents” and we carried the colors of red, white and blue to the state house!

Over 1,200 students, parents, educators, and legislators came out to support school choice and Idaho’s myriad of K-12 learning options as part of National School Choice Week.


Letter: School Choice Worked for Me

Updated Jan 30, 2016Top of Form

Bottom of Form

I have gone to Idaho Virtual Academy for seven years and am in eighth grade. Thanks to school choice I am able to complete my daily work earlier and am able to go at my own pace on assignments. Kids should be able to choose what kind of education they get and with school choice they can!

When I went to public school for two years I couldn’t keep up with the other kids and often fell behind. I wasn’t exactly in with the best crowd and I got in trouble often. But then my mom pulled me out of public school and put me in IDVA. At first I thought it was going to be like my other school, but after about a week I was hooked! The schedule was way more flexible and there were less social distractions.

Now it has been seven years and I’m still happy. I no longer get behind in assignments, and am always done by 2 p.m. Also, I can join online school clubs based on my favorite activities like: science, engineering and robotics. Thanks to school choice I have been able to find a school that I enjoy!

Cyrus Nash




·         KEVIN RICHERT FEBRUARY 4, 2016

Last time around, it took lawsuits to force Idaho to rewrite its school funding formula.

Then it took a ton of new money to seal the deal. The spending increase was huge — and today, it would take more than $350 million to match it.

That was 1994.

Now, fast forward to 2016.

The funding formula rewrite would probably start with a legislative “interim committee,” meeting between the 2016 and 2017 sessions. The Legislature would have to pass a concurrent resolution creating the committee, and that proposal hasn’t been introduced yet. State schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra is expected to take part in the review, along with representatives of the State Board of Education and Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

Key legislators are planning to take a run at rewriting Idaho’s school funding formula, a complex and delicate math equation that parcels out dollars to 115 school districts and 47 charter schools. They want the new formula to line up with the 2016 classroom — where students are more mobile and classes are delivered on high-tech platforms.

The committee isn’t set, but the prospective membership includes some of the Legislature’s heavy hitters on education topics. These lawmakers have no clear deadline — but a clear picture of the enormity of the task ahead. There are only so many dollars to spread around. Revamping the formula could be as controversial as it is complex.

To better understand the political landscape, and the potential landmines, let’s look back. And look ahead.


The story of the 1994 rewrite actually begins in 1990, when two groups of school officials and patrons sued the state over school funding. The plaintiffs focused on Idaho’s constitutional mandate to provide a free, uniform and thorough public school system.

Legislative leaders entered the 1994 session with an unmistakable agenda: Fix the school funding formula, and make the litigation go away.

It didn’t exactly work. The Idaho Schools for Equal Educational Opportunity case would continue for more than a decade, with the focus shifting to school building issues. Still, the legal challenges sufficiently motivated the 1994 Legislature to rewrite the funding formula.

Today, no lawsuit looms. The state’s political leaders are now banking on a more subtle motivation. They hope the various parties can agree on one point: After 22 years, an aging formula needs repair.

Clearly, Idaho funds a vastly different school system in 2016. From classroom technology to dual-credit courses to virtual charter schools, the demands on state K-12 dollars have changed.

The old funding formula shows its age in many ways.

The 2015-16 K-12 budgets contain close to two dozen line items — many designed to fund new programs or meet emerging 21stCentury learning needs. As more students move to virtual charter schools or alternative schools during the year, the state is struggling to find a vehicle that allows money to follow the students. In 2015, Gov. Butch Otter vetoed a bill aimed at addressing this issue.





·         APRIL 6, 2015

A charter school group is urging lawmakers to override Gov. Butch Otter’s veto of a $1.7 million school funding bill.

However, it’s not yet clear whether the House will take up this fight.

A week ago, Otter vetoed House Bill 126, which would have provided funding for schools that take on transfer students during the course of an academic year. The bill would not solely provide funding for charter schools — but alternative and virtual charter schools would be among the beneficiaries.

Tom LeClaire, a Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families board member, speaks at a news conference Monday.

For example, the Idaho Virtual Academy receives 500 to 700 transfer students per year, said Tom LeClaire, a board member for the Coalition of Idaho Charter School Families.

As it stands, this school and others receive no additional funding when they take on transfer students. That student’s original school receives state funding, based on enrollment at the start of the year.

Schools need to receive funding based on fall enrollment, since they enter into teacher contracts based on these student numbers, said Sen. Cliff Bayer, a Meridian Republican and one of nine lawmakers to attend the coalition’s news conference Monday. However, he said, some funding also needs to follow students.

“This is an attempt to simply complement the existing funding formula, in a very modest way,” Bayer said.

In his March 30 veto message, Otter said the bill only digs the state deeper into a funding hole. “The result of the measure will actually be double funding of some students while other funding priorities remain unmet.”

Otter has said his education task force has a committee working on a funding solution, and will present an alternative in 2016. In a Thursday letter to House Speaker Scott Bedke and Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, Otter pledged to seek a supplemental appropriation in 2016 to help schools cover the costs of transfer students.

The question, though, is whether the Legislature is willing to wait next year — or inclined to challenge Otter’s veto.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, the lead sponsor of HB 126, pointed out that the funding fix largely helps alternative schools that have to accept at-risk students. “Do you want to have them end up in the prison system?” she said Monday. “Waiting another year is not going to help those kids.”

HB 126 passed both houses with the two-thirds majorities needed to override a gubernatorial veto. But it will be up to House GOP leadership to decide to make the first move on a possible override. With the veto, the bill now sits at Bedke’s desk.

House Majority Caucus Chairman John Vander Woude attended Monday’s news conference. However, he said House leadership has not yet discussed a possible override.

HB 126 is the only bill Otter has vetoed so far this session — and the move carries a bit of political intrigue. In November, Boyle wrote a sharply critical op-ed piece about the Idaho Education Network broadband contract fiasco, blaming the crisis on Otter’s “crony capitalism.” Boyle has said the criticism “probably” played a role in last week’s veto — a suggestion Otter denies.


 Tagged: 2015 Idaho Legislature


Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, is expected to co-chair the committee assigned to rewrite the school funding formula. “I would rather do it right than fast,” she said in an interview this week.

No one has trouble identifying shortcomings in the current system. The myriad line items fall short of funding needs, says Rep. Wendy Horman, an Idaho Falls Republican who has been named to co-chair the funding formula committee. Charter school advocates want money to accommodate students who transfer midyear — and they’d like help in 2016, not later.

But without litigation, and the sense of urgency that comes with it, will everyone stay at the table? Especially for a total rewrite?

Harold Ott was superintendent of the Troy School District in 1994; now, he lobbies on behalf of the Idaho Rural Schools Association. He says his members do see the need to tweak the formula.

“But nobody is saying, ‘Throw it out,’” he said.


Lawmakers were trying to settle a lawsuit in 1994, but they had a few other goals. For example, they wanted to boost teacher pay and reduce class sizes. But they did nothing designed to “modify particular student achievement outcomes,” the Legislature’s Office of Performance Evaluations wrote in a 2009 report.

“Increases in funding were not linked to specific educational outcomes the state wished to attain,” the OPE wrote.

This time around, student achievement is the objective. And mastery-based learning is the focal point.

In a mastery-based learning system, students would move through the school system based on their command of subject matter. A student would no longer have to spend a full year in sixth grade, for example. And a school wouldn’t necessarily receive a full year’s funding for that sixth-grader.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, has extensive experience in writing school budgets and working on water rights bills. He sees parallels between the debates over education dollars and limited water supplies.

It may take two years to rewrite the funding formula, House Speaker Scott Bedke said this week. But he hopes the funding formula committee can come back to the 2017 Legislature with a firm picture of how mastery will work, especially for kindergarten through third grade. If the state hopes to improve reading scores in the early grades, it can’t afford to wait on coming up with a mastery model for K-3, said Bedke, R-Oakley.

The idea of mastery-based learning isn’t new. And it enjoys broad-based appeal. Like almost every recommendation from Otter’s education reform task force, mastery received unanimous support from the panel of politicians, education and business leaders.

As a task force member, Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking endorsed the mastery concept in 2013. The retired teacher and Boise Democrat did so knowing mastery would necessitate a “major shift” in the funding formula. Now, like other prospective members of the committee, she wants the committee to take its time.

“I hope we have the right people at the table,” she said. “We need to do this right. The process matters.”


In 1994, Phil Homer was superintendent of the Blaine County School District — one of Idaho’s most affluent and well-funded districts, then and now. Now a lobbyist with the Idaho Association of School Administrators, Homer remembers the bare-knuckled process that preceded the 1994 legislative session. Education leaders were summoned to the office of Jerry Evans, who was completing his fourth and final term as state schools superintendent. Behind closed doors, they were told to cut a deal.

The incentive: Legislative leaders promised to kick tens of millions of dollars into the K-12 system, if the educators could agree on a deal that would settle the lawsuit.

In the end, the K-12 budget increased by $95.6 million, a dramatic increase, particularly by 1995 standards.

In one year, per-pupil spending increased by 16.2 percent.

Replicating that one-year increase — in a school system with more than 290,000 students — would cost a staggering $350 million today.

“We don’t have that kind of money,” Bedke said.

A funding increase could smooth out the delicate job of rewriting the school funding formula, said Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise. However, she is realistic about the task at hand. “There’s probably going to be some winners and losers.”

“We’re not going to see that,” Ward-Engelking said. “I guarantee you.”

They’re almost certainly right. This year’s K-12 budget comes in just shy of $1.5 billion. For 2016-17, Otter and current state superintendent Sherri Ybarra have proposed K-12 increases of $116 million and $110 million, respectively.

In other words, negotiators won’t have nearly as much new money to plug into a new funding formula — and soften the transition. Absent new money, a new funding formula is a zero-sum game. Some schools and districts would get more money. Others would get less.

Horman isn’t too daunted by the $350 million number. As she notes, it aligns with the five-year cost of implementing the task force recommendations, which cover everything from teacher pay raises to classroom technology to mastery.

“We’re already on track to hit those dollar figures,” she said. “It won’t be all in one year, but we’re on track to exceed that number.”